When my husband and I moved to Del Ray, the last thing on our mind was the school system. We had two dogs and no children on the horizon. Thirteen years later, we have two children in Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) and we are thrilled with our experience. I frequently have new parents ask how my children are doing in Mount Vernon Community School and now GW Middle School. Both have proven to be excellent schools and my children’s education has been top notch. I’m happy with the teachers and administrators, but I also think a crucial factor to educational success is a high level of community and parental involvement. This brings me to introduce my guest author for this post!
I first met Karen Graf as she spearheaded the organization of the MVCS bookroom. Karen’s tireless dedication ensured that ALL children at MVCS have access to books that were at their reading level. Karen has catapulted on from the MVCS bookroom to become the Chair of the Alexandria City Public School Board.
I asked Karen recently if she would do a guest post on ‘Why Alexandria City Public Schools’ since it’s such a common question. Without further ado, here is her piece:
The first month of school has passed. I’m often asked by new and prospective parents why people send their children to ACPS and why they choose to stay. Based on the last several years, we know that something has shifted in a positive direction in the City of Alexandria. In fact, I have heard the dialogue change around ACPS. This benefits the whole community in many ways.
I informally surveyed a group of parents who have children in the division between kindergarten and eighth grade. I ask them why they send their children to ACPS. Most everyone gave “community” as the reason.
A common story is that they moved to Alexandria City before their children were at school age. Many were interested in living in neighborhoods where they could meet neighbors, walk to school and participate in their community. The community connection is strong in Alexandria City and they were betting on that being in the schools. They found that the schools served as a community gathering place. Playgrounds were seen as a way to meet people and many felt that that were make lifelong friends through participating in the schools.
Many parents felt strongly about wanting to be in a functioning, urban school district in a city that felt like a small town. They welcomed ACPS’ diversity. The workplace is global and having kids experience diversity at such a young age helps them develop skills for adapting to the world at-large. There was a belief that this helps them build resilience and grit, which are emerging concepts in the education community.
They also like that each school has a different “personality” and they felt that this led to similar values in the school populations. When I asked them to clarify values, they said that most people have a deep believe in the public education system and enjoy the benefits of a diverse staff and student population.
There’s also a strong time and money investment in the schools. Many community partners, nonprofits and parents across the city are giving their time, money and energy to better our school system. This serves as a capstone to divisions becoming high performing.
All of these reasons might be enough for someone to start at ACPS, but why do they stay? The general thought was that people want to help their city and their neighborhoods progress. They also recognize that TC Williams has some of the best offerings in the state. The high school provides the most AP courses in the Commonwealth, has a robust Career and Technical education program and the counseling department is committed to assisting students towards realizing their college goals. With such a large student population, there are exciting opportunities for students to experience successes and science, arts and music.
The parents also cited the dedicated, committed staff. As I listened to them, I realize that education is complex. Every student learns differently and every teacher teaches differently. However, through the differences, ACPS is committed to creating equitable opportunities for every child in the school system. What struck me was that these parents have pride in their children, their school experience and the city of Alexandria. And this combination is what is helping the focus on high-performance.
I’m excited for this school year. And I’m really eager to continue to observe the successes of our staff and our students in the coming year. With a community like ours, success is defined by those making a difference in people’s lives. And in our city, Alexandrians give and receive that in bucket loads.